Pakistan news January 12, 2012

Security situation in Pakistan has improved - Majid Khan

The international community should take decisive steps to ensure cricket returns to Pakistan as soon as the safety of visiting teams can be guaranteed, former PCB chairman Majid Khan has said. Majid, who is on the executive committee of the MCC, presented a security update on the situation in Pakistan at the body's latest meeting in Cape Town over the weekend.

Majid reported on an improved Pakistan situation, where security threats are minimal, and the MCC received his review with "optimism." They are considering sending a delegation to Pakistan to conduct further assessment and Majid is hopeful that this will be the start of Pakistan hosting cricket again.

"Whether the observers will come before [the next MCC meeting in] August I am not sure. The committee will also decide what sort of players they will send, whether it is a University team or just volunteers who are willing to go as an MCC team," Majid told ESPNcricinfo at Newlands. "Regardless of what standard it is, they will still go to play and it will break the ice."

No Test team has toured Pakistan since the ghastly terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009. Afghanistan are the only national team to have played there in the interim. The Pakistan team now plays its 'home' matches in the United Arab Emirates, where they have hosted series against South Africa and Sri Lanka, and are currently preparing to play England.

Bangladesh are the only team to have responded to a request to tour Pakistan. The PCB have invited them to visit in April, subject to a security check and various security guarantees which included bullet- and bomb-proof buses. Actions such as these are what Majid wants other countries and the ICC to engage in to take cricket back to Pakistan.

"It's up to the international community to make up their minds and assess the situation themselves, which they haven't done," he said. "They have to decide when they want to play in Pakistan. The ICC task force hasn't visited Pakistan personally. I think it is time for the world community to physically come and start the process. If Bangladesh comes it will ease the fears of the international community but it all depends on the ICC and how quickly they would like to see Pakistan hosting home series."

Majid's report may tempt the ICC, to whom the MCC presents recommendations, to evaluate the situation themselves. "Terrorist activity has abated a lot," he said. His foremost example is of the British Army team who travelled to Pakistan army in December.

"Just before their arrival, the NATO strike occurred," Majid said, making a reference to the November 26 strike along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. "In deference to the soldiers, they postponed the games but the British Army team arrived in Pakistan. They practiced in the capital, Islamabad, without any security. They went up to a hill resort called Murree, spent a day there and they are thinking of returning in February to play the games. That's a positive sign."

While the average Pakistan cricket supporter is keen to see cricketing action resuming in the country, Majid thinks there may be some sceptics. The spot-fixing trial and convictions have cast a long shadow over cricket in Pakistan and Majid says many fans have begun to doubt the honesty of the game.

"There is a lot of cynicism among the public. If any match or series, Pakistan do badly, people start questioning. I'm sure if Pakistan had been bowled out for 47 against South Africa here [at Newlands], there would have been lots of questions.

"That cynicism has to be done away with. We have to tackle the corruption problem and bring back the confidence of the public." Majid believes the only way to do that will be to ensure that harsh punishments are meted out to those who are found guilty of cheating.

He said stronger sentences, such as the jail terms that Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammed Amir are currently serving, play a dual role of acting as a deterrent to would-be offenders, and as a reassurance to the public that the problem is being taken seriously. "Overall, it has sent the message, 'watch out,' which is good," Majid said.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent